Grave Story: Charlie Hallstrom (1863-1949)

(This article originally appeared on the Hall of Very Good.)

Here lies Charlie “The Swedish Wonder” Hallstrom, the first Sweden-born major-league baseball player. He pitched one game for the 1885 Providence Grays.

In 1885, it was fairly common for teams to use a two-manpitching staff. It was also fairly common for pitchers to blow their arms outafter a few seasons, incidentally. The Grays had a good pitching duo with OldHoss Radburn and Dupee Shaw, but every once in a while the Grays needed anotherpitcher to give them a rest. Usually, they would find an amateur pitcher andbring him in for a game. Such is the case with the Swedish Wonder.

Charles Emil Hallstrom was born in Jonkoping, Sweden on Jan. 22, 1863. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1865 —or 1868 depending on which census record you read. By 1885, he was pitching for semi-pro teams in Chicago and had earned his dandy nickname.

The Grays were visiting Chicago to play the White Stockings on September 23. It was announced early that the Grays would use Hallstrom “as an experiment,” as the Chicago Tribune reported. It didn’t go well. The wire reports stated that “the home team gauged his delivery and batted him very hard, taking the game with ease.” In 9 innings, Hallstrom allowed 16 runs (11 earned) on 18 hits, 6 walks and a wild pitch. King Kelly hit two home runs off Hallstrom, and Tom Burns added a homer in a 16-8 drubbing. According to the box score, Hallstrom was charged with eight (8!) errors, though modern databases like Baseball Reference and Retrosheet list him with a more realistic 1 error in 2 chances. The game recaps didn’t even bother to get his name right, spelling the last name with one “l.” At least he gave Radbourn and Shaw a day off, so he did his job.

Hallstrom continued to play baseball throughout the Midwest into the early 1890s, as a pitcher and occasional catcher and outfielder as well. He was a star pitcher for the Chicago Whitings, a team in a citywide league, as late as 1892. He married his wife Maggie, herself an immigrant from England, on January 10, 1888. City census records show he became a tailor after his baseball days were done, and he was active in Chicago Republican politics. He had his own shop in Chicago’s Loop, and he must have done pretty well for himself, as he had a summer home on Birch Lake in Michigan for the last 40 years of his life.

Charlie Hallstrom died in Chicago on May 6, 1949 at the age of 86. He was survived by his wife and four grandchildren and was the Honorary President of Chicago’s 33rd Ward. He is buried in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, IL. There have only been three other Swedish players to make the major leagues, and none of them had as cool a nickname as The Swedish Wonder.


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